One of the happy events of Lent takes place in every diocese around the world generally on the first Sunday of Lent. This is the celebration of the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion by which catechumens, those who are to be baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil, as well as the candidates, those who are already baptized in another Christian denomination but are to be formally accepted into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, are officially enrolled as such. It is the Bishop who formally welcomes these new members and accepts them at the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. Present at this Rite are not only all the candidates, but their sponsors as well as all those involved in the catechetical programs of the various parishes of the Diocese who have assisted them. In the Diocese of Palm Beach, we have two celebrations, one on the Saturday evening of the First Sunday of Lent and one on the afternoon of the same Sunday. It is always an uplifting and inspiring occasion.
This year, because of my recent surgery, our Vicar General, the Very Reverend Chuck Notabartolo, represented me in formally welcoming and enrolling the catechumens and candidates. However, because this is such a special and wonderful occasion, I very much wanted to be part of it. I was blessed to be able to come over to both celebrations, read the Gospel and preach the homily to all those present. It was a wonderful occasion for me to be able to welcome those entering the Church this Easter as well as to thank all those who give of themselves in supporting the catechumens and candidates on their journey. We are blessed with a vibrant and diverse Diocese of many different ethnic backgrounds who were present for this occasion. As always, I was personally inspired by all those present who give of themselves to the family which is the Church as well as by all those who enthusiastically want to become members of this family. The celebration truly made the beginning of Lent significant for me.
The readings for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion were the same as for the First Sunday of Lent. The Gospel was that of the temptation of Jesus after His Baptism while He stayed in the desert for a period of forty days. These forty days of Jesus’ seclusion, prayer and temptation are the foundation of what our forty days of Lent are all about. The temptation of Jesus during this period is found in the three synoptic Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel for this year was that from St. Mark. Unlike the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke, St. Mark does not go into detail regarding the temptation but simply records the fact that Jesus was truly tempted in His human nature.
As we reflect upon the meaning of Lent as well as the importance of the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, we realize how significant the reality of temptation is in our lives as it was in the life of our Lord. Too many times we can think that the Lord was not truly tempted but simply went through some type of play acting which really had little effect upon His inner being. However, this is not the case. Jesus truly faced real temptations which were placed before Him by Satan during those forty days. The temptations which He faced were the same ones which Satan would place before Him during His public ministry and on the road to the Cross. These temptations came down to one basic matter – the temptation for Jesus to reject His mission of salvation and of giving His life on the Cross for the sake of all of us. When the devil tempts, He always goes to the core of the matter and places before us that which would truly turn us from our path in a manner which makes evil look good. He did the same for the Lord and, as with us, was very effective.
During the season of Lent, it is good to realize the temptation that Jesus faced as it helps us to appreciate what the Lord has done for us. It was through God that the world came into existence. However, from the very beginning God poured Himself out in love for us and His pouring of Himself and the offer of a real relationship with Him in our lives was rejected. Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation of the devil by which he convinced them that God was holding out on them and that they could find more happiness without God in their lives. Despite their rejection of God, God did not reject them but offered Himself over and over again to them. As evil began to escalate in God's creation, God still did not reject men and women but always offered them Himself even when it meant pain for Him. Finally, He sent His Son into the world as the one who would draw all people to Himself.
Satan tempts Jesus by letting Him see the Cross which He is to face. Despite the fact that the Son of God came into this world in order to give of Himself to us, He would be rejected and put to death as a criminal. He would be mocked, laughed at and scorned. The devil tempts Jesus to reject His mission of salvation and to show His power as God in rejecting us for our sinfulness and betrayal. This was a real temptation which we can easily understand. However, Christ's love for us is so great that not even our rejection of Him can cause Him to reject us. Despite the pain, suffering and betrayal which Jesus would face, He embraces His mission of the Cross in order that He might bring us life. Jesus would not show off His power as God before Satan but only that His power is one of love.
It is this love of God for each and every one of us which is why we embrace His family which is the Church. It is in the Church that we come to know the Lord and to know His saving love for us especially in the sacraments which culminate in the Eucharist. This is why the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion is such a joyous occasion at the beginning of Lent. We are all part of the same journey which leads to God. We are tempted in our lives by many things which try to turn us from God's call to each of us and try to make us the center of our own lives. As with the Lord, Satan uses very real things to push us away from God and to choose ourselves in His place. Sin does not make us happy but only makes us miserable. No one would choose evil if they saw the unhappiness that it would bring into their lives. However, Satan fools us.
As we continue on our journey during this Lenten season, it is important for us to realize that Lent is a joyful time. We choose Jesus Christ and we use the season to help us in rejecting sin and choosing the Lord so that we can know the happiness only He can bring us. We support each other in our faith and in our journey of life. May this season help us to realize the joy which only the Lord can give us and as we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Easter may we know the fullness of that joy through the suffering Christ endured for each and every one of us.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 13, 2015